Mille Lacs Tribal Adviser: Drug Deals Now Occurring with Impunity

November 19, 2017 10:51 PM

Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe tribal leaders say that since a joint powers law enforcement agreement with the county went unsigned a year-and-a-half ago, drug overdoses have skyrocketed and crime has increased after tribal police lost enforcement power.

They've now filed a federal lawsuit in an attempt to restore that agreement, which they say would again allow tribal police to make arrests on the reservation.

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Mille Lacs tribal adviser Tadd Johnson said the absence of a joint powers agreement has left the 32-person Tribal Police Department without the authority to make arrests on the reservation, except on small portions of the land that are owned through a legal trust held by the tribe.

RELATED: Mille Lacs Band Sues County Over Policing

"The drug dealers and gang members know tribal police cannot make an arrest, and so they deal their deadly products right in front of the officers who are helpless to do much, because the Mille Lacs County Sheriff has threatened to arrest our officers, if they do anything, for interfering with the deputies duties," Johnson said.

Johnson said the lack of tribal police authority has largely led to 66 drug overdoses -- 13 fatal --  on the reservation since July of 2016.

"If this many overdoses and deaths were happening in a small town of 2300 people, like we have on the reservation, anywhere else in Minnesota, and the local police had no authority to do anything about it, there would be media coverage and outrage throughout the state," Johnson said.

Johnson said tribal leaders decided to file the lawsuit asking a federal judge to order Mille Lacs County to restore the joint powers law enforcement agreement.

"There are deputies patrolling the reservation, and the sheriff did add six more deputies to his department," Johnson said. "But that is still not enough to cover 61,000 acres on the entire reservation."

RELATED: Dayton: Mille Lacs County, Tribe Need to Work on Policing Agreement

Mille Lacs County Attorney Joe Walsh said he could not comment on the lawsuit because it is in the litigation process, but he did issue a statement denying some of the claims made by tribal leaders. 

"I am not aware of any attempt by anyone at Mille Lacs County to interfere with any inherent tribal or federal investigation conducted by the Mille Lacs Band officers," the statement read. "To the contrary, I have encouraged joint and cooperative investigations to meet the needs of all parties. I don't control policy for either the State of Minnesota, or the Mille Lacs County Board, who have both taken the long-standing position that Indian country and tribal sovereignty is limited to trust lands within Mille Lacs County."

In September, Gov. Mark Dayton wrote a letter to Mille Lacs County leaders urging them to come to an agreement with the tribe on the law enforcement issue. He called the situation "a public safety crisis."

Both sides are scheduled to meet with a mediator on Nov. 27.

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Jay Kolls

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